Mitt Romney Obamacare: Why Emergency Rooms Cannot Be Substituted for Primary Care

Two weeks ago, Republican candidate Mitt Romney said “We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance." He justified this statement by saying that federal law requires hospitals to admit all patients, even if they don’t have health insurance. Romney’s first statement is completely and utterly false, and his subsequent solution to the problem is an entirely unsustainable one. Relying on emergency rooms to treat patients is both nonconductive to the health of citizens nationwide and, quite frankly, a waste of money.

Emergency rooms are overcrowded. Patient turnover is extremely slow. There aren’t enough beds for patients. Closets, and other spaces not intentioned, for medical use are converted into emergency room space. The waiting time to even see a doctor is long. And the list of inefficiencies continues. 

A person without insurance often cannot get pre-emptive treatment and is therefore forced to wait until their health worsens and reaches a critical condition. Only then does it become necessary or possible for them to go to an emergency room. Letting someone’s health deteriorate to that point before treating them is irresponsible. Not only does it take away from the afflicted individual's health, but it takes away from the other emergency room patients’ respective health statuses as well. As resources become stretched, the quality of care that each patient receives in the ER goes down. The entire situation could have been prevented had the uninsured patient gotten proper care and treatment much earlier on.

Moving away from the physical health aspect, the financial situation is also deeply affected by patients who are uninsured, who drive health care costs up overall. It is more expensive for a hospital to treat patients who require critical, intensive care than it is for the hospital to provide them with simple, relatively inexpensive treatments that maintain their health along the way.

In 2009, the Social Security Advisory Board said, “Hospital readmissions are costly, and the data suggest that they happen far too frequently. While there are many reasons for readmissions, a lack of coordination between providers and the patient for follow-up care is one factor.”

The suggestion that patients somehow cannot get access to follow-up care can be an indicator that they do not have a means to access pre-emptive care either. The expenses incurred in treating uninsured patients in emergency rooms also negatively affect the overall treatment and health care provided to all patients in hospitals. Furthermore, while hospitals do provide a significant amount of uncompensated care, uninsured patients are often faced with bills tallying thousands of dollars that they simply can’t afford, leading to financial ruin.

The success of a hospital depends on its practical and financial efficiency. As expensive as insurance costs are for the government, it is even more expensive and detrimental to public health to treat patients who are barely hanging onto life in emergency situations that could have been easily prevented. 

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act attempts to address this situation by reducing the number of uninsured patients and improving the quality of health care administered. Under this system, people can at least afford to seek out preventative health measures instead of resorting to the emergency room. In the long run, health care costs will go down, while the quality of life will continue to rise.